November 2, 2006
Author: Mike Krause
The strategy of opponents to Amendment 44, which would re-legalize marijuana possession for adults in Colorado, goes something like this: In order to protect children from marijuana, we must also treat grown-ups like children.
Writing in opposition to 44, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers makes the case for the state as a disciplinarian father figure to everyone, “We need to send a very clear message to our children, and that message is that the only safe alternative to intoxication is sobriety.”
Actually, allowing adults to legally make personal lifestyle choices (even politically unpopular choices such as marijuana use) could go along way to lending some much needed credibility to anti-drug messages aimed at adolescents.
According to Mr. Suthers, “Between 1992 and 2002, there was a 162 percent increase in treatment admissions for marijuana use as the primary substance of abuse. Today, 62 percent of teens in drug treatment are there for marijuana use.”
Yet a closer look at the data shows that the increase in treatment admissions may have more to do with the government’s obsession with arresting people for marijuana than any actual increase in problem use among teenagers and young adults.
The recent book, An Analytical Assessment of U.S. Drug Policy, published by the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, analyzed data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) from 2002 and found that “although marijuana is a much smaller contributor to crime than heroin or crack, 58 percent of treatment admissions where the primary drug of abuse was marijuana were criminal justice system referrals.”
At the same time, only 13 percent of heroin admissions and 26 percent of crack admissions were criminal justice system referrals.
According to the AEI authors, “The likely explanation for the higher marijuana figure is the large number of young individuals who enter treatment programs as part of a plea bargain or pretrial negotiations. The unfortunate irony is that many of these individuals do not have serious drug problems; at the same time, arrestees who abuse cocaine and heroin are less likely to be referred to treatment.”
So the message to children is that even after becoming young adults, you may be needlessly forced into treatment for marijuana in order to avoid other criminal penalties.
In the 2006 report, “Wasted in the War on Drugs” the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) note that: “Although numerous studies have revealed that marijuana does not serve as a gateway drug, it continues to be the primary focus of the federal government’s war on drugs.”
The report continues that the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has spent hundreds millions of tax dollars on commercials during prime time television (including the Super Bowl) that inaccurately claim, among other things, that marijuana use directly funds terrorism and leads to unwanted pregnancies.
A 2006 analysis of the ONDCP media campaign by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found, among other things, that there is “credible evidence that the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002-2004 when the campaign was redirected and focused on marijuana use.” The GAO report specifically notes that “exposure to the advertisements generally did not lead youth to disapprove of using drugs and may have promoted perceptions among exposed youth that others’ drug use was normal.”
The CAGW study points to a 2006 Texas State University survey that found 18-19 year old college students were actually more likely to try marijuana after viewing the ONDCP ads.
The AEI authors make the point that government anti-drug programs might be more believable to adolescents following marijuana de-criminalization for adults, “These programs could make a clearer distinction between marijuana and other drugs in terms of their dangers and thus increase the credibility of their messages about more dangerous drugs.”
Treating children like children is fine, but children are also adults-in-training who will someday expect their government to treat them as such. The opponents of Amendment 44 seem to have forgotten this.